Fucking despicable

Ben Roethlisberger: He must be innocent, because otherwise how could he have gotten away with it for so long?

Ben Roethlisberger: He must be innocent, because otherwise how could he have gotten away with it for so long?

Super-famous quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the subject of a civil lawsuit that alleges he raped a woman employed at a hotel where he stayed last summer. (Anyone clicking that link, be warned: The story includes a detailed description of the alleged rape.) If he did what he’s accused of, that’s pretty fucking despicable, if soul-crushingly predictable, all by itself.

But the plague-rat topping on this shit-and-thumbtacks pie is Roethlisberger’s lawyer’s statement defending his client:

“Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone. The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct,” David Cornwell said in a statement. “If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated.” [Emphasis mine]

OK, Ben’s lawyer, let’s clear something up here. Around 60% percent of rapes are never reported at all, and even those people who do work up the strength to go to the police don’t always do so immediately. You, a fucking lawyer, who practices law for a living, and who felt qualified to give a detailed opinion on another high-profile athlete rape case, you have surely at least heard a rumor that rape is hugely underreported, even if you were not aware of the exact numbers. Look, you even said this relatively decent thing a while back, when it wasn’t your client who was making headlines:

“Most of those times, it’s mixed signals, or someone changes their mind before they complete the act,” Cornwell says. “And that means you have to stop — no means no, anytime.”

OK, that “mixed signal” bit is gross, but that thing at the end! Where no means no even if you’re already in the middle of things! That’s fucking great! That’s perfect! Way to go!

But now you’re screwed, because now I know you have at least a cursory grounding in rape law. You must, because anyone who tells athletes, “A one-night stand is a ticking time bomb,” but also knows that consent can be withdrawn at any time, no matter what must be getting it from places like this recent Maryland case, because you’re sure not getting it from our culture, and you’re clearly not getting it from feminists or people working with or for victims of sexual assault.

So! You know something about rape and the justice system! So you must also know that that thing you said? About how if someone doesn’t go to the cops soon enough he or she is clearly making it up? That’s a filthy fucking lie. And it’s a filthy fucking lie that damages not only the woman involved in this case, but every other person who does report being sexually assaulted—that would put them in the minority, remember—because every time that lie is repeated, especially by lawyers and cops and judges, it makes it harder for dozens, hundreds of other people to get a conviction. And since only about 6% of rapists ever see a day of prison, I’d say it’s hard enough as it is.

I know the “I swear it was consensual” defense isn’t particularly original, but you really ought to consider it. It has the enormous advantage of helping only one (accused) rapist walk free.

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4 Responses

  1. I just deleted a (suspiciously MRA-y) comment from my mod queue for a belligerent insistence on discussing the specifics of this case. (And thank you for your kind concern, Mr. Deleted Commenter Dude, but I can read, and was therefore aware of both the alleged victim’s name and the details of her claim. The fact that neither was included in my post was a result of a deliberate decision.) Obviously I have my opinions on this case, but I don’t think it’s useful to have a discussion of whether this athlete raped this woman in this way—I don’t know, you don’t know, probably none of us will ever know. The discussion I want to have is about the larger implications of the lawyer’s comments and how rape victims are treated by our society and our justice system. So anyone who wants a comment approved on this thread will have to stick to this meta-level conversation.

  2. I think you are misreading the lawyer’s statement. The way I read it is that if a rape took place there should be a criminal investigation in addition to a civil case. The fact that the victim isn’t asking for a criminal investigation does, in fact, weaken her case.

    I am not making any assumptions about this case (since I know nothing about it), but it seems logical to me that if this victim was raped, and strong enough to come forward and face her rapist, that she should be trying to have him convicted in a criminal court.

    • He’s not saying there should be a criminal case, he’s saying that the fact that there hasn’t been one is in itself evidence that his client is not guilty. In fact, he says it’s the strongest available evidence that he’s not guilty.

      The problem, as I stated above, is that this argument is born of and reinforces the common stereotype that real rape victims report the attack immediately. This is, in fact, not always the case, but many people, including many jurors, use this and other standards based on inaccurate stereotypes to judge people, especially women, who make allegations of rape.

      In reality, everyone reacts differently to rape. It’s a highly personal crime. So some people will be raped, be consumed by righteous anger, and march immediately to the police department. Maybe they will later feel shame and fear and insecurity and a loss of sense of self, or maybe they will always feel angry. But some people will be consumed with shame, will fear their attacker, or fear that they will lose their jobs or custody of their kids, or fear of the justice system itself and its requirement that victims confront their victimizers again, some will go into denial, some will become deeply depressed. Any of these emotions can keep a rape victim from initiating a criminal process against their attacker. So imagine for a moment that you have been sexually assaulted, and shame or fear or depression or denial or the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness caused by the rape hold you back from going to the police. And maybe eventually those feelings change—you got counseling, you found a new purpose in life, you found new coping mechanisms, or time simply made those feelings easier to live with. And you decide, I want to punish my attacker, I want to make sure that person never hurts anyone else. But you realize, either on your own or with the help of a lawyer, that your chances are poor. Half the time when rapes are reported an arrest is never even made, which is remarkable considering that most victims know their attackers. And now all the physical evidence is gone, the delay will be used against you in court, perhaps even the mental distress you suffered because of the rape will be used to undermine your credibility. And if your attacker is rich and famous and powerful, then everyone will know who you are and what you went through, many won’t believe you, most will side with the person who raped you, and that person and their money and their powerful allies and their expensive lawyers will monopolize the justice system and the media and public opinion, and you will be put through the agonies of a trial—facing your attacker, recounting your private shame very publicly, listening to your attacker’s defenders pick apart your life and paint you as a greedy, promiscuous, unreliable person before a national audience—for nothing.

      So instead you decide to file a civil suit. There, the burden of proof is lower. Your attacker cannot be sentenced to jail in that court, but if you win a decision in your favor, especially if the attacker is famous, then everyone will know what kind of person they are, what they did. And maybe other people who could have been victims like you will stay away and be spared what you went through.

      Does this seem unreasonably, unlikely, or far-fetched to you? Or does it seem like the kind of thing that could happen to even the most honest, most upright, most upstanding and reliable person?

      In truth, the woman in this particular case could be the greedy liar Roethlisberger’s lawyers will probably paint her as, she could be as innocent and pure-hearted as Bambi, or she could be somewhere in between. But the lawyer knows that any of those things could be true, and he knows that juries are often strongly influenced by preconceptions like this one to which he is giving very public support. So he knows that his statement is irresponsible and unjust, and has repercussions that extend far beyond his own case. And he said it anyway. And that is fucking despicable.

  3. But Peter, she may figure that since so much time has past a criminal investigation would never happen. What evidence is left at this point for a criminal conviction? The standard is higher than for civil court.

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